Two summers ago, the number of transient people living in Provo Canyon in makeshift homes of boxes, tents, blankets and other materials had increased significantly over previous years.
Since that time, changes have been made and work has been done to reduce that number and make Provo Canyon’s recreation areas more clean and safe.
During summer 2018, members of the Utah County Fire Department worked to clean out debris and thin out foliage in areas that were so thick, it was easy to camp long-term without even being seen. The goal of the work was primarily fire reduction as well as making areas more visible.
This summer, that work has continued.
According to Lt. Wayne Keith, with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, a tremendous amount of work has been done during the past few months in the canyon.
“It’s still a work in progress, but it is cleaner and better,” he said. Keith said that complaints about transient people living in the canyon have greatly decreased.
According to Deputy Nich Friedrichsen, there are deputies who are part of a recreation and canyon team tasked with going to the canyons in Utah County where people recreate and reducing transient populations.
“Provo Canyon has been the biggest problem of the canyons,” he said. “That is probably due to the close proximity to the city and bathrooms.”
“Our fire department has been all the way up the canyon to Mount Timpanogos Park and cleared a 30-foot section north of the trail from the mouth of the canyon and half of a mile past the park,” Friedrichsen said.
Department members thinned out the brush from areas where people would previously have been able to find cover.
Additionally, deputies regularly patrol the canyon on mountain bikes, riding along trails and stopping in all of the areas where transients commonly used to be, Friedrichsen said.
“They don’t have the option to camp in those places anymore without being seen,” he said. “One of the best things we’ve seen is that people are cleaning up. We haven’t had to come in and do major cleanups like last year.”
When people are found to be camping in the canyon illegally, the deputies advise them about where they can go and because some are homeless, they do offer them help and services, Friedrichsen said.
Keith said that overall, crime has decreased in the canyon.
“I believe it has been a combination of opening up the areas that have been a problem and stepping up our deputies’ presence in the area,” he said.
Crimes that used to be more common just two years ago include stolen backpacks, purses and wallets from cars parked in the canyon. There were reports of people exposing themselves to women using the trail. Deputies would also find signs of drug use among the transient camps.
Areas that were once strewn with empty bottles, cans, old clothing, discarded containers and even buckets and bottles that had been used as toilets are once again areas where families, university students and other groups are recreating.
The work is not done. The Utah County Fire Department will continue to work to open up the overgrown areas that have been a problem, according to Keith. People are beginning to use those areas again for picnicking and hammocking.
“I believe that is part of the success,” Keith said.
Five hundred chairs were set up across from Sandy City Hall for a memorial service commemorating the nearly 3,000 people who died 18 years ago.
Those chairs quickly filled up, with hundreds more standing behind to attend a service honoring those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as fallen Utah heroes.
For the past 18 years, thousands of American flags have been displayed on the Sandy City Promenade on Sept. 11, each attached with the name of a person who died in the terrorist attacks.
The Utah Healing Field, as it is now known, is also used as a platform to raise funds for charities, including this year’s beneficiary, Honor 365, an organization that offers programs for veterans supporting education, employment, healthcare and housing.
Honor 365 honored six Utahns as part of the ceremony, including fallen Provo master officer Joseph Shinners and Utah National Guard Major Brent Taylor.
Provo Police Officer Joseph Shinners, 29, was shot and killed in Orem in January while trying to apprehend a wanted fugitive near a shopping center.
Taylor was the North Ogden Mayor killed in the line of duty while serving with the Utah Army National Guard in Afghanistan in November.
The other honorees were Col. Robert Adams, Sgt. First Class Elliott Robbins, South Salt Lake Officer David Romrell and Draper fire marshal Bryan Thatcher.
Romrell was killed in the line of duty in November.
Provo Police Chief Rich Ferguson escorted Shinners’ widow, Kaylyn Shinners, who is due with their second child in a few weeks, up to receive the recognition.
“Joe Shinners and every single first responder who has been killed in the line of duty since then have gone to work just like (9/11 responders) did that morning,” Ferguson said. “With the belief they would come home, but with the reality they may not. And he didn’t.”
Ferguson said first responders like Shinners go to work every day with one goal: to protect others.
“They don’t go to work with the goal of themselves,” Ferguson said. “They go for selfless service. We have to remember that as community and society.”
Of the 2,977 people victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 411 were emergency workers, 343 were firefighters, and 60 were police officers.
Ferguson said he is thankful to live in a community where first responders are valued.
“These events mean a lot to us, and it should mean a lot to every citizen,” Ferguson said.
Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn said he had a hard time concentrating today looking out from the window of his office and seeing the flags commemorating those who had lost their lives, and thanked those who put their lives on the line to protect others.
“Most days I don’t understand how you guys do what you do, but I’m so grateful that you do,” Bradburn said. “And that goes for all of our service men and women, for all those who strive to protect us every day.”
The Dixon Middle School building could house community organizations if the school is moved, the Provo City School District announced Wednesday morning.
The district is in serious discussions with the United Way of Utah County and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Utah County to expand their facilities to the school building if the district’s proposed $245 million bond passes in November, according to the announcement.
“This is an option that allows the building to remain there and have a presence with community partners,” said Caleb Price, a spokesman for the Provo City School District.
The district’s proposed bond would include funding for a rebuild of Timpview High School, a rebuild of Dixon Middle school, a rebuild of Wasatch Elementary School, an addition at Westridge Elementary School and security upgrades at schools.
The bond would include relocating Dixon Middle School to the district’s west side, potentially to the area near 890 South near Footprinter Park, where the district owns about 20 acres.
The current Dixon Middle School was first occupied in 1931 and has seen multiple additions built onto it since. It sits on about 8 acres of land, about half the size of modern school sites.
Price said the district has been discussing ways to utilize the building if the bond passes. The district reached out to community partners, and is optimistic about the possibilities.
“These two organizations have been longtime partners with the Provo City School District on a variety of efforts for many years,” the district’s announcement reads.
Details on the renovations, timelines and leasing haven’t been discussed. The district hopes community partners will contribute to the costs of needed renovations.
The district has received confidential offers from local donors for the project.
“This permits us to retain at least a portion of the existing building, since some in the neighborhood have expressed support for keeping it,” the announcement reads. “The school district retains possession of the building and property, as the board has stated is a priority.”
The United Way of Utah County has let Utah County’s cities and school districts know that it’s interested in available space.
“Our barrier of expansion is resources,” said Bill Hulterstrom, the president and CEO of the United Way of Utah County.
Hulterstrom said the organization has a successful program in the south Franklin Neighborhood that houses arts and tutoring programs.
Moving into the Dixon Middle School building would expand those activities.
“The south Franklin community is where we have a concentration of needs, and had frankly remarkable success when neighbors get to know each other,” Hulterstrom said.
The potential move could triple the capacity of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Utah County’s programs, according to David Bayles, the organization’s executive director.
Bayles said the organization had to turn away about 200 children who wanted to attend summer programs this year. Most of those live in the Provo area.
“It is appealing to have a location centered around where the kids come from,” Bayles said.
The announcement isn’t enough to convince a community group that moving Dixon Middle School is the best decision.
The No On Provo School Bond PIC, formerly the Save Dixon PIC, wrote in a statement that the district’s announcement assumes that future school boards will commit money to assure the Dixon Middle School is in a usable condition.
“School districts do not usually allocate these levels of funding to community centers because they move resources out of our schools,” the statement reads. “There are already disagreements among board members of how much we should be spending on peripheral programs, and that attitude will only increase as Provo citizens see taxes skyrocket over the next few years. The only way to ensure that children and residents have access to these valuable community programs is to vote no on this bond, and demand a new bond that maintains Dixon as a school.”
The group says there are unaccounted costs for relocating the school to the west side.
“We have always maintained that moving the middle school to a new site will end up costing taxpayers substantially more than rebuilding onsite,” the statement reads. “The lack of planning for (the) current Dixon location is just one of many reasons why so many citizens have joined us in opposing this bond. The statement is meant to placate voters without providing any real solutions for the future.”
The Utah County Health Department confirmed a human case of West Nile virus in Utah County on Wednesday.
According to the Health Department, it’s the first Utah County case of the virus since the 2017 mosquito season. Officials have not released the identity or information on the condition of the local individual.
Public health officials are encouraging individuals to take precautionary measures with the Mosquito Prevention “D’s.”
Drain standing water, including removing items that can collect standing water; avoid being outside at Dawn and Dusk; Dress appropriately by wearing long sleeves and long pants while outside; Defend yourself with insect repellent with DEET; and Doors and window screens should be in good working condition.
Unfortunately it is not the first human case in Utah this year.